California and Sweden – similarities and differences

Short facts

  • California
  • Length
  • Area
  • Population
  • Density
  • California
  • 1.240 km
  • 423.970 km2
  • 40 million
  • 88,9 people per km2
  • Sweden
  • 1.572 km
  • 447.435 km2
  • 10 million
  • 22,7 people per km2

When people from the USA go to Sweden, they often notice that most of the Swedes can communicate in English. That’s because we learn English from an early age in school and we consume much popular culture from both the USA and England: music, tv series, and movies. One thing that separates us from many other countries is that we keep the original language and have subtitles in Swedish when we watch tv series or movies from other countries. That’s part of the reason to why Swedes, in general, know English.

Since we consume a lot of your culture, it’s natural that we in Sweden feel close to the USA in many ways. We laugh at many of your jokes. We read the news about your president, school shootings, and wildfires. We wear similar clothes.

Sweden is good at IT: Minecraft, Skype, and Spotify are three examples, but there are many more. Many IT entrepreneurs dream of going to the USA and more specific: Silicon Valley in California.

There are big differences too. For every Swede that considers getting a job in the USA, it’s a new and probably rather weird experience to realize that there’s no such a thing as free healthcare, five weeks vacation or 18 months of parental leave. We live in a society that takes more responsibility for its citizens.

We went to California in March–April this year. We were curious about what it would be like for real. Lots of what we experienced were very similar to what we are used to in Sweden, while other things surprised us.

Bigger roads

Every road has lanes in California! Also, it’s not just two lanes in each direction, it’s very often four lanes, sometimes even more. Of course, we have roads with lanes in Sweden too, but our roads are in general smaller. When we had to cross a street by foot in Millbrae, and there were four lanes in each direction, it felt like running against the clock, ”would we make it before the traffic lights turned green?”. I mean, when we go to Stockholm, which is the biggest city in Sweden, we feel safer as pedestrians. In Sweden, you find the roads with many lanes in areas more separated from where the pedestrians are.

Also, the Swedish traffic signs are better from a pedagogy point of view. It’s easier to understand and follow the Swedish signs. We did understand the traffic signs in California, and we got better at it from practicing, but when we came back to Sweden and drove on the big roads in Stockholm, we noticed the difference even more.

Drought and wildfires

Even if California is warmer than Sweden, we share the problems with drought and wildfires. California’s situation is worse than the situation in Sweden, but the issues are real also in Sweden.

2017 was the first year when the lack of groundwater started to become an acute problem in Sweden, and it got worse during 2018 because we got so little rain. This summer the farmers couldn’t get feedstuff for their animals. The queues to the slaughterhouses are longer than ever. The crop on their acres is poor. I remember reading about the farmers in California and their problems with water supply, and now we have similar problems in Sweden.

With the drought comes more wildfires. At one point, in July, we had about 100 fires going on in Sweden at the same time, which is a new phenomenon for us.

When we drove between Sonoma and Santa Rosa in early April, we saw some of the burnt areas. At first, I noticed that some of the mountains had another color, could it be after the fires? Then we came closer and passed through areas were the black remainings of trees and bushes were on both sides of the roads. When we reached Santa Rosa we passed one ward after another were all the houses were gone. Empty. Nothing. It made a significant impact. We didn’t know what to say; it was so sad to watch.

I thought a lot of that while the wildfires were active in Sweden. It’s one thing to see the forests burn down, that’s bad enough, but when the fires reach the houses where people live, it becomes much more horrifying.

Since we live on the island of Gotland, we are even more vulnerable than the rest of Sweden. We had a big wildfire in 1992, and no one wants to relive that experience.

Gotland is made up from limestone, which means that our bedrock is full of cracks so that the water runs through very quickly. We have to get better at keeping the water on Gotland. Another way is to desalinate seawater. Since 2017 we have one desalination plant at the east of Gotland, next year an even bigger desalination plant at the south-west will start to deliver fresh water in June.

Eating out

Yes, you have many fast food chains in California, but we have quite a few in Sweden as well. One thing that I noticed and appreciated is that you also have quality franchise chains which are not so common in Sweden. One example is Mary’s Pizza Shack. I thought it was a genuine original restaurant that we visited in Santa Rosa, and the Italian food was delicious. Then I found out that there are many Mary’s Pizza Shacks… Another example of a quality franchise is the Mendocino Farms Sandwich Markets: so tasty, fresh sandwiches, made of locally produced ingredients. Great concept! We had lunch at the Mendocino Farms in San José.

We ate some great meals in California, the best ones in Santa Rosa. At the same time, food culture is very similar in California and Sweden. For example, the food served at Bird & The Bottle in Santa Rosa was much like the food we get at Amarillo in Visby, Gotland.

Something that was tricky was the American way to add a tip. In Sweden we tip as something extra, to show that we are pleased with the serving staff, but it’s okay not to tip. The staff will get paid even if we don’t tip. To know that the employees depend on the tip, like in the USA, creates a more stressful relation to the payment.

I was also a bit uncomfortable with the custom to give us the bill as soon as we have said that we are pleased and want no more to be served. In Sweden, the staff is more discrete and won’t push you to leave the place once you finished your meal, as I think they did on the restaurants in California that we visited. Except that, the servants were very friendly and polite.

Make the bed

We stayed at four different places, one private house, three hotels. I never found out the bed-making logic. We make our beds the IKEA way. One sheet at the bottom, then a blanket or a cover inside a duvet cover – the kind that is like a bag. That is how they do it at Swedish hotels as well. In California, every place seems to have their own, individual way of making the bed.

Breakfast

When you stay at a Swedish hotel, the breakfast buffet is generous. You get all kinds of yogurt, granola, cornflakes, and müsli. Knackebrot, freshly baked bread loaves, and bread rolls. Smoked ham, smoked turkey, salami, a couple of cheeses. Boiled eggs, bacon, small sausages and fried potatoes. You get coffee and handful choices of tea, often loose leaf tea.

At the hotels we stayed in California, it was more like one kind of bread, fruit yogurt, marmalade, Philadelphia cheese and maybe some smoked ham. I think every place offered the possibility to make waffles. Coffee and tea bags.

In general, it’s easier to choose a healthy breakfast in Sweden.

Surfing

No, Roine and I don’t surf, but it might surprise you to know that we see surfers on the beaches of Gotland. They become a more common sight for every year. We had windsurfers already in the 70’s, and it was quite popular. Lately, we see more of wave surfers, kite surfers, SUP and even surfboards with a small motor.

The most fanatic wave surfers look for the big waves that we get during the winter storms. Hardcore surfing.

Also, we see that the surfing culture in California inspires restaurants and bars on or close to our beaches.

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